Dortmund overcome two-goal deficit at Real Madrid to top group with 2-2 draw
MADRID -- Three points from Real Madrid 2-2 Borussia Dortmund at the Santiago Bernabeu, which sees the hosts finish second in Group F in the Champions League.
1. Dortmund fight back to top Group F
Borussia Dortmund came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Real Madrid in Wednesday night's Group F decider at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. With the draw, the Bundesliga team won the group and will now be seeded for the Round of 16.
Zinedine Zidane's team seemed set for a victory that would have seen them take top spot when Karim Benzema scored once in either half, but a young Dortmund team kept their work rate and belief levels up and got back to equalise through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and substitute Marco Reus.
Thomas Tuchel's injury-hit kids had more of the ball through the opening stages, but Madrid had the better chances, with visiting keeper Roman Weidenfeller saving from Benzema and James Rodriguez.
It was no surprise when the opening goal came in the 28th minute. Casemiro released Dani Carvajal down the right wing, and his pinpoint cross was bundled over the line from close range by Benzema. The exiled France international's second came just after half-time, again after Dortmund had some more possession, when he headed home James' peach of a left-wing cross.
At that stage, it seemed Madrid would stroll to victory, but Dortmund quickly got one back when Aubameyang was unmarked six yards out to knock home Marcel Schmelzer's cross.
Even still, Cristiano Ronaldo had a number of chances to kill the game off, including hitting the post from eight yards out. Then, with 87 minutes played, Aubameyang got behind Madrid left-back Marcelo and squared for substitute Reus to bundle the ball home from close range to the delight of the travelling support at the Bernabeu.
Zidane had dismissed a pre-game debate among Blancos pundits about whether it was better to avoid winning on Wednesday and in turn miss out on a meeting with heavyweights Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City in next Monday's draw.
In the end, Madrid did go to out to try to win, but Dortmund's youthful zest and refusal to lie down earned them a result and likely an easier tie in next week's last-16 draw.
2. Real match club's unbeaten record in bittersweet manner
The second big issue before the match was whether Madrid could equal the club record of 34 games unbeaten in all competitions, set back in 1988-89 when Dutchman Leo Beenhakker was coach at the Bernabeu.
Asked pre-game how his team keep digging out results, Zidane pointed to his squad's professionalism and ambition. On Wednesday, the boss gave James a rare start after he had not featured in last Saturday's Clasico, and the Colombia international was full of running throughout -- as if he had more to prove than some of his teammates. His best moment was the peach of a cross that set up Benzema's second goal; when the ball hit the net, Marcelo immediately ran to hug the assister, who deserved the congratulations for his display.
With allegations of tax issues and talk of potential prison time in the local media, it was a less happy night for Ronaldo. The Portugal captain had a frustrating first half, summed up by a kick-out at Schmelzer, which Polish referee Szymon Marciniak deemed underserving of a yellow card. He should really have scored after the break, but was first denied by a flying save from the veteran keeper before hitting a post from just eight yards out when it seemed he had to score.
In the end, the misses did not cost Madrid the record, which they can take outright if they avoid defeat at home to Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday. But it was a bittersweet night for Ronaldo, whose two goals in the group stages this season is the lowest total of any of his seven seasons at the Bernabeu.
3. Youthful Dortmund's ambition pays off
Tuchel is viewed as one of Europe's brightest young coaches, and this was a "shot to nothing" for his young team to show everyone what they were capable of. Dortmund were hampered by injuries, although it meant that 18-year-old U.S. international Christian Pulisic got a start in a very offensive 4-2-3-1 formation.
The visitors were capable of playing some lovely stuff on the ball, all zippy passes and clever angles, with Pulisic and fellow teenager Ousmane Dembele often involved. But when they lost possession, Madrid found it easy to knife straight through on the break, as was the case with Benzema's opening goal, when full-back and captain Schmelzer was caught way out of position.
By contrast, when Tuchel's team had chances to break they often either took the wrong option or made it an easy save for Keylor Navas -- one example being when Pulisic was sent clear from Dembele's pass but shot straight at the keeper.
When Gonzalo Castro missed a simple chance to equalise just after half-time and Benzema made it 2-0 moments later, that seemed to be that. But Tuchel's side kept pushing, and boyhood Madrid fan Aubameyang halved the deficit with a close-range finish when the Madrid defence fell asleep. Fit-again Reus was then in the right place at the right time to equalise late on and reward what was an impressive, if in ways flawed, performance by his side.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan